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Here at Four Horsemen Films, we're dedicated to some of the very best and worst cinematic masterpieces you know, love, and despise. Think of us as Bad Movies for Bad People, or as a liaison to the inner sanctum of cinema. Or, just think of us as quick and entertaining reads. That's what Four Horsemen Films is all about.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952)

Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952)
Written By: Tim Ryan

Directed By: William Beaudine

Starring: Bela Lugosi, Duke Mitchell, Sammy Petrillo, Charlita, Muriel Landers, Mickey Simpson, Steve Calvert

Country of Origin: United States of America

The Idea:
Late in his career, movie megastar Bela Lugosi had the wheels come off. While he finished up with Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space (joining the ranks with Gene Kelly in Xanadu and Joan Crawford in Trog as starring in one of the worst last films of a career ever), he was in a bit of a spiral once he left the genuine horror business that made him so successful. Perhaps the best example of this downward depression is the 1952 “classic” Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla.

Yes, that’s the name of the movie, apparently penned to drum up ticket sales by making damn sure that you knew Bela was the star. He played Dr. Zabor, and, in a true stretch of his acting abilities, was a mad scientist. That’s right, Bela fell back into yet another typical device of the time, typecasting. The studio wanted to cast this action-comedy with Bela in his typical evil role, but since it was supposed to have humor, they planned to have Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis play the buddy role on the opposite side.

Movies of this time were a lot like this. Many buddy pictures were thin on plot and budget, but managed to showcase the stars in a manner that made the whole “good” feature of a film a moot point. The only issue was Martin and Lewis had no desire to film this one. So rather than scrap the project altogether (a wise decision, maybe?), it fell into the hands of “America’s New Comedy Team” in Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo. Two young, veritable unknowns to the Hollywood community and community at large, they were carbon copies cast to sound, act, and even appear, as if they were Martin and Lewis. There is even some speculation that the two characters were to be named Martin and Lewis. Clever.

So anyway, these imperfect clones find their way onto an island in the South Pacific, where, by some stroke of dumb luck, they encounter a lovely native princess in Nona and the evil Dr. Zabor. Duke falls head over heels for Nona, but he’ll have to contend with the dastardly tactics of Zabor, who also happens to be in love with the princess. What would usually follow is some kind of murder, but once again, since this is a comedy, Zabor instead decides to turn Duke into a stammering, singing gorilla. Oh yes, a man in a gorilla suit. This is fucking gold.

From here on out, we are subjected to some very, very bad humor and awkward racism as Sammy attempts to rescue his friend, animal pals, and why not Nona as well in an epic conquest that can only be described as, well, bad. Duke and Sammy are terrible onscreen and have very little chemistry as buddies. They stutter through one-note jokes and neither understands the majority of their blocking. It is even written in that Zabor, who, again, if you forgot, is played by Bela Lugosi, looks “familiar” to Duke. This tongue-in-cheek humor is just another plot point that they chose to bring up over and over rather than move past in just a few seconds.

Finally, and perhaps worst of all, I must refer once again that the movie is called Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, and yet, Lugosi is playing a character. So the movie might as well be "Bela Lugosi Fucks Your Mother" and it will have just as much significance.

Member of the Crew Who Should’ve Been Fired: Sammy Petrillo takes the cake for being so overbearingly annoying that he not only overshadows his partner Duke Mitchell but he makes you want to rip your ears off and stick them in the doom sphere. I mean, if you haven’t figured out that he’s ripping of Jerry Lewis by every mention already, just read the back of the DVD case. He is listed as having a “flawless” imitation. It was so “flawless,” in fact, that the case neglects to mention he was sued by Lewis for stealing the character. Lewis won.

Best Name in the Cast: Steve Calvert is a God among men in regards to typecasting. He’s played the man in the gorilla suit in nearly every film he’s ever been in, including this one, and The Ape.

Quote of the Film:
“This looks like Death not only took a holiday, but he got a hangover from taking it.” -Sammy Petrillo

Final Thoughts: This movie really pisses me off. Seriously, I’ve been calm and collected (for the most part) whilst reviewing this over-ambitious escapade that plays more like a crappy tourist’s guide than an actual art piece, but I can’t hold my emotions in when watching, or discussing, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. The plot sucks. The acting (mostly) sucks. The writing sucks. The print sucks. The editing sucks. The Gorilla sucks. Lugosi made this film after a notorious comment about wanting to be in more comedic pictures. If he were still alive, I’d like to see what would happen when Lugosi stars in a follow-up that I’d write, entitled "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Beatdown." Hilarity ensues, I’m sure.

1 comment:

Madame Hook. said...

What the fuck was going thru Lugosi's mind when he agreed to do this?